By Joe Lacdan, Army News ServiceAugust 31, 2018
OLMSTED, Ill. -- The Army's top engineer said the opening of the massive $2.7 billion Olmsted Locks and Dam project here, Aug. 30, demonstrates just exactly what the Army Corps of Engineers is capable of.
"Olmsted stands as a shining example of what is possible when we all marshal our ingenuity, our innovation, and our investment for a vital public good," said Lt. Gen. Todd Semonite, commander of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
The Olmsted project is situated on the north banks of the Ohio River at Olmsted, Illinois, about 17 miles upstream of where the Ohio River flows into the Mississippi River. The project will drastically reduce processing times for vessels passing through the western end of the Ohio River. It is expected to achieve full operational capability in October.
Transit times for barges to move through existing infrastructure, Locks 52 and 53, can take up to six hours. Severe deterioration of those existing locks -- both of which are nearly 90 years old -- has meant that industry leaders have looked forward to Olmsted's opening for decades, said Olmsted project manager Mike Braden.
At Olmsted, project managers estimate it will only take 45 minutes to an hour for traffic to move through the new locks. According to Corps of Engineer documents, the project includes two 110 by 1,200-foot locks and a dam comprised of five tainter gates.
The new lock and dam systems controls the river's water level so that during periods when river levels are low, large vessels such as towboats and barges can still pass.
The completion of the project culminated the work of hundreds of Corps of Engineers employees and contractors, many of whom spent their entire careers working on the project, Braden said.
With the massive lock and dam structure as a backdrop, Semonite told attendees at the ribbon cutting ceremony that the Corps of Engineers is now working projects in 110 countries in support of warfighters from all services. Included in that, he said, is the construction of 15 hospitals for the Veterans Administration, a $6 billion civil works program and work associated with a $17 billion disaster supplemental.
"Despite these achievements though, we have no room in the Corps of Engineers for complacency," Semonite said. "Our inland waterways, ports and harbors have provided American producers with a strong competitive advantage against foreign competitors for generations, but our systems are aging and in clear need of modernization."
The completion of the Olmsted Locks and Dam project, he said, will provide lessons learned that will inform other Corp infrastructure projects, including revitalization of the Chickamauga and Kentucky Locks on the Tennessee River and Charleroi Locks and Dam on the Monongahela River, Semonite said.
Attendees of the ribbon-cutting event included Secretary of the Army Dr. Mark T. Esper, local and federal leaders, and many of the workers who helped construct the project. Semonite thanked those who were instrumental in helping make the project a success.
"To everyone else who tirelessly labored on this project, into the Louisville District team whose expertise enabled Lock and Dam 52 and 53 to function decades past their design life -- I am amazed at your professionalism," Semonite said. "To the local community and to all who rely on this waterway, you have my heart-felt gratitude for your patience and your support. To our national and state leaders, including members of Congress, especially Senator [Mitch] McConnell and Senator [Richard] Durbin who worked tirelessly to make sure Olmsted remained a priority: thank you for investing in infrastructure that is vital to America's economy and defense."
More than 150 million tons of cargo pass yearly through the stretch of the Ohio River where the Olmsted Locks and Dam are located -- more tonnage than at any other place in the U.S. inland navigation system. As a whole, the Ohio River carries more than 280 million tons of commodities a year.